“You ask kids today, where does milk come from, they’ll say the grocery store,” said Jason Hodge. “It’s amazing how many adults say that as well. Our kids today are four to five or more generations removed from the farm. So, our goal is to expose them to agriculture and keep these rural roots alive so our kids do know where we get our food.”
The Fancy Farm resident serves as program coordinator of the Mobile Science Activity Center for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. A major part of his duties includes travelling across the commonwealth in one of three trailers that double as science laboratories. They come replete with ten work stations and one teacher station, each equipped with I-pads and computers.
“The classes that we offer meet the requirements of the Kentucky Department of Education science curriculum,” Hodge explained recently on a visit to the Graves County elementary school located in his hometown. “Today, we’re making a soybean lip balm,” he continued. “We use agricultural products, in this case beeswax and vegetable oil, which is nothing more than soybean oil. So, we combine that, adding some flavor for the kids to make it smell and taste good. They each get a small container of the (homemade) ‘Chapstick’ to take home with them.”
Humor is another tool Hodge uses to teach and reach 21st century elementary students in memorable ways. He jokes with them, maybe more so than usual in his hometown. “It’s a very fun, rewarding job,” he said. “There’s a lot of road time. We average three nights a week in a hotel and the program has run since 2000.”
Besides making lip balm, other activities involve biodegradeable corn, ‘slime,’ and one, where the final product is a bouncy ball.
“We even make ice cream,” he said, noting, “There is not nearly as much of the dairy industry in Kentucky as there once was.”
One sure-fire hit activity with elementary kids he calls the ‘superslurper.’ “It’s an absorption activity,” Hodge explained, “more of a real life situation of a traffic accident with a truck leaking.”
“I think this is a great way for kids to interact outside the classroom, to see a hands-on demonstration. It makes it real to them,” said parent volunteer Kiecha Ditto. She volunteered during the recent visit, including son Jaxon Ditto and his fourth grade class. She concluded, “My kids are excited about it. When they come home, one of the first things they tell me is what they saw on the science mobile truck. They seem to enjoy it every year.”
Fancy Farm Elementary School fourth graders pose on the Kentucky Department of Agriculture Mobile Science Activity Center with its director and Fancy Farm resident Jason Hodge. The women standing next to him are science teacher Marcia Harpole, on his right, and, on his left, parent volunteer Kiecha Ditto.
Jason Hodge and Fancy Farm students share a laugh.